Schools to close as teacher pay row escalates

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn

Katherine Donnelly

FULL-day closures of secondary schools will begin next week as a direct result of the teachers' pay row.

One of the biggest schools in the country is closing all day Tuesday to allow parent-teacher meetings to go ahead, forcing parents to take time off work and make arrangements for the supervision of their children.

The 1,200-pupil Malahide Community School in Co Dublin will shut its doors for the day so that parents of Leaving Cert and Junior Cert students can meet teachers.

Other schools are likely to be taking similar difficult decisions because of the ban by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) on meetings outside school hours.

Patricia McDonagh, the principal of the Malahide school, said last night that the meetings with parents of sixth-year and third-year students were scheduled for Wednesday after school.

But, in light of the ASTI action, she has decided to close the school for a full day on Tuesday so that they can take place.

She said such meetings were the main means of communicating with the parents and it was important not to postpone them any longer.

Ms McDonagh said the move was regrettable and she hoped when schools reopened after the mid-term break a resolution would have been found.

The closure means that pupils will have to stay at home, while working parents will have to seek time off work, and make arrangements for the

supervision of children unexpectedly off school.

Last night second-level principals urged Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to step in to resolve the dispute, as it begins to affect pupils and classes.

The dispute involving 17,000 members of ASTI is now in its third week, with more schools expected to have to close for half and full days in the coming weeks in order to accommodate meetings inside school hours.

National Association of Principals and deputy Principals (NAPD) president Kay O'Brien warned: "This is not a victimless dispute; the ones who ultimately suffer will be the students.

"Negotiations will have to begin sooner or later. It will be unforgivable if it is later," she said.

Ms O'Brien said she was concerned about what would happen in schools if the dispute was not resolved quickly.

She said principals worked around the school community to keep things going and to maintain a good atmosphere, but that could not go on indefinitely.


She said schools would finish for the mid-term holiday next Friday, breathing a sigh of relief that "we have got this far".

But they would be concerned about returning to the same difficulties after the break.

She appealed to the minister to invite ASTI to talks.

Ms O'Brien made her comments at the annual conference of the NAPD in the presence of Sean O Foghlu, secretary general of the Department of Education, who was deputising for the minister.

Mr O Foghlu said that they wanted to see resolution, and as soon as possible, but it required a willingness on the part of ASTI to sign up to the Haddington Road agreement.

ASTI has banned meetings outside schools hours as part of its programme of industrial action after rejecting the agreement on pay and productivity.

The ASTI standing committee, which implements union policy, said last night that they had repeatedly stated that they were available for talks.

But the threat of disruption to schools heightened this week when managers of the 380 voluntary secondary schools – those traditionally run by the religious – were advised to reschedule parent-teacher meetings for within the school day. This will mean schools closing at 1pm, or even earlier, with pupils sent home early and parents forced to seek time off work to attend.

And last night the first school confirmed it will be closing for a day.

The Joint Managerial Body (JMB) issued the advice reluctantly because it felt that meetings with parents of Leaving Cert and Junior Cert students could not be delayed any longer.

Ms O'Brien said the dispute was causing difficulties for principals, particularly in schools where both ASTI, and the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) had members.

This is because the terms and conditions of ASTI and TUI members are different as a result of the ASTI rejection of the deal, the only union to do so.

For instance, all TUI members now have to do supervision and substitution duties for nothing, while ASTI members do not.

Meanwhile, TUI members are enjoying certain benefits of the deal, including higher pay for young teachers and payment of increments for those who are due them.

In an added complication, non-union members in ASTI schools are being treated as if they were in ASTI.